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Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, previously discussed here, when the Ghvtismshobeli was addressed by the angel Gabriel and told of her destiny as the Mother of God.

This is one of my favourite hymns for this feast, although it is not Georgian. Called “The Pre-Eternal Council” or “Sovet Prevechny”, it was written by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov.

Gabriel stood before thee, O Maiden,
Revealing the pre-eternal counsel,
Saluting thee and exclaiming:
“Rejoice, O earth unsown!
Rejoice, O bush unburnt!
Rejoice, O depth hard to fathom!
Rejoice, O bridge leading to the heavens
and lofty ladder, which Jacob beheld!
Rejoice, O divine jar of Manna!
Rejoice, annulment of the curse!
Rejoice, restoration of Adam:
the Lord is with thee!

Sovet prevechnyi otkryvaya Tebe Otrokovice,

Gavriil predsta,

Tebe lobzaya i veshaya:

“Raduisya, zemle nenaseyannaya:

Raduisya, kupino neopalimaya:

Raduisya, glubino neudobozrimaya:

Raduisya, moste k Nebesem privodyai,

i lestvice vysokaya, yuzhe Iakov vide:

Raduisya, Bozhestvennaya stamno manny:

Raduisya, razreshenie klyatvy:

Raduisya, Adamovo vozzvanie,

s Toboyu Gospod’ “

Pavel Chesnokov’s  biography by Robert Cummings states;

Pavel Chesnokov was arguably the foremost Russian composer of sacred choral works during his time. He wrote around 500 choral works, about 400 of them sacred. Chesnokov was a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church and was inspired to write most of his works for worship in that faith. His best-known composition, one of the few works he is remembered for today, is Salvation is Created, a Communion hymn based on a Ukrainian chant melody. During the Soviet era, Chesnokov was better known as a choral conductor than composer. Indeed, he was praised, even by the Soviets, for his skills in choral conducting, though they remained hostile to his sacred music throughout his lifetime…….. 

…..Pavel Chesnokov was born into a musical family on October 12, 1877. His education was extensive: his first advanced studies were at the Moscow School of Church Music (he graduated in 1895); he next worked privately with composer Sergey Tanayev and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory (graduating in 1917), where his list of teachers included Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. In the end, Chesnokov would go down as one of the most highly trained musicians in Russia, having spent years studying solfège, composition, piano, and violin.

But Chesnokov was not just a student during these years: he taught choral conducting in Moscow, served as choirmaster or conductor at several prominent schools and choirs (most notably the Russian Choral Society Choir), and most importantly, composed a spate of sacred choral works, including his most popular, Salvation is Created (1912). After the Bolshevik Revolution, Chesnokov was forced to abandon composition of sacred music, owing to sanction against such activity by the anti-religious Soviets. He thus embarked on composition in the secular choral realm.

From 1920, Chesnokov headed a choral conducting program at the Moscow Conservatory. He also remained busy, regularly conducting the choirs of the Bolshoi Theater and Moscow Academy. In addition, Chesnokov became the choirmaster at Christ the Savior Cathedral. In 1933, however, on orders from Stalin, the cathedral was demolished to make way for construction of a skyscraper that would never be built. Chesnokov became so distraught over the cathedral’s destruction that he stopped composing altogether. He continued teaching and conducting various choirs in Moscow until his death there on March 14, 1944.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow was reconstructed in the 1990’s. The history of the demolition is heartbreaking, if not a little ridicuous;

“Under the state atheism espoused by the USSR, many “church institution[s] at [the] local, diocesan or national level were systematically destroyed” in the 1921-1928 antireligious campaign. As a result, after the Revolution and, more specifically, the death of Vladimir Lenin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the site for a monument to socialism known as the Palace of the Soviets. This monument was to rise in modernistic, buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised in the air.

The economic development in Russia during the 1930s required more funds than the government had at the time. On 24 February 1930, the economic department of the OGPU sent a letter to the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee asking to remove the golden domes of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. The letter noted that the dome of the church contained over 20 tons of gold of “excellent quality”, and that the cathedral represented an “unnecessary luxury for the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of the gold would make a great contribution to the industrialization of the country.” The People’s Commissariat of Finance did not object to this proposal.[5]

On 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin’s minister Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are now on display at the Donskoy Monastery. For a long time, these were the only reminders of the largest Orthodox church ever built.

The construction of the Palace of Soviets was interrupted owing to a lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named Moskva Pool.”

From Wikipedia

For those with Georgian language competence, this short documentary from the Georgian Patriarchate’s Ertsulovneba TV Station examines the Annunciation and contains many traditional Georgian hymns for this feast.

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Today is a dual commemoration. If you visit a temple today, you will see flowers decorating both the various icons of the Virgin Mary and icons of the Cross. The Annunciation is a fixed feast, and the Veneration of the Cross is a movable feast that always falls on the third Sunday of Great Lent.

March 25th in the Julian calendar (April 7 in the modern Gregorian calendar) is a fixed feast celebrating the Annunciation to the Ghvtismshobeli. It falls nine months before Shobas (Christmas), indicating that while the Incarnation of Christ was miraculous, the remainder of the pregnancy was in line with normal human conditions.

According to Church tradition, the Virgin Mary had spent much of her youth serving as a Temple attendant; her parents Saints Joachim and Anna were so grateful to God at having been granted a child so late in their lives that they dedicated her to serving God in this manner. Soon after returning home from the Temple, she was visited by the Angel Gabriel. The Annunciation and resulting conversation between teenage girl and mighty angel is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1:

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

The Kontakion for today is one of many robust and seemingly martial hymns to the Virgin Mary. Given the humility and instantaneous obedience to God that Mary demonstrates upon receiving this momentous news, it may seem slightly incongruous, but it marks a turning point in the life of Mary from an innocent girl with few committments, to the human being with the fate of all humanity in her hands, a figure of strength and authority.

“O Victorious Leader of Triumphant Hosts!

We, your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos!

As you possess invincible might, set us free from every calamity

So that we may sing: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!”

 

The third Sunday in Great Lent is always commemorated as the Sunday of the Holy Cross. The veneration of a wooden object, an instrument of torture, is seen as odd by outsiders and spurned by most Protestant sects, but this is an ancient tradition. After three weeks of fasting, it is tempting to believe we are making spiritual progress through our own efforts alone. This Sunday starkly reminds us that spiritual progress is only made possible through the voluntary submission to torture and death by the Son of God, and it is through Christ that we may move closer to God. Father Alexis Trader of Mount Athos explains this issue much better than I can here .

The hymns associated with the Sunday of the Holy Cross are likewise joyous and robust in character.

” Now the flaming sword no longer guards the gates of Eden;

It has mysteriously been quenched by the wood of the Cross!

The sting of death and the victory of hell have been vanquished;

For You, O my Savior, have come and cried to those in hell:“Enter again into paradise.””

 

 

 

 

 

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Newcomers to Georgia sometimes form the opinion that the Georgian Church discriminates against women or that it perpetuates archaic societal roles for women. In some cases, outsiders even allege that the Church is implacably hostile to women and their status as people of equal merit to men. Some Georgian Christians see this as merely an ill-informed position, others see these allegations as slanderous and betraying a hostility to Christian principles.

Given that in Western secular society, such phenomena as no-fault divorce, pre-marital sex and access to abortion are seen as essential “rights” that women must enjoy to be considered as equal citizens, it is unsurprising that differences in opinion will arise over what acceptable manifestations of women’s status are between the Georgian Church and Western secular society.  It should also be remembered that the Church does not operate in a cultural vacuum; it is natural that aspects of the underlying pre-Christian civilisation will endure amongst both laity and clergy, and some of these cultural beliefs can be difficult to reconcile with Christian teachings and secular humanism at times.

In the interests of promoting better understanding, I am presenting a short series of articles on Orthodox Christianity and the Status of Women. Please bear in mind these are not official Encyclicals of the Patriarchate, and they are not written by a theologian but an ordinary lay person. The first concerns the Orthodox concept of the status of the Virgin Mary and its relevance to the modern status of women within the Church. Subsequent articles will examine the Gender of the First Evangelists, the Gender of Clergy including Deaconesses, and the Orthodox Approach to Sexuality and Family Life.

In the Greek language, the Virgin Mary is often referred to as “Panagia” (“All-Holy”); this title is conferred on no other saint or human being in history. In Georgian, her title is “Ghvtismshobeli” (ღვთისმშობელი) meaning “God-Bearer”, referring to her bearing and giving birth to God the Son. . The Church recognises the Virgin Mary as the most important human being in history, so close to God that she was chosen by Him to conceive, bear and give birth to God’s only begotten Son.

According to Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, a noted theologian,

No one is born free of the ancestral sin. The fall of Adam and Eve and its consequences were inherited by the whole human race. Of course even the Panagia could not be freed from the ancestral sin. The words of the Apostle Paul are clear: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3,23). In this apostolic passage we see that sin is understood as a deprivation of the glory of God and also that no one is exempt from sin. So the Panagia too was born with the ancestral sin. But when was she released from it? The answer to this question must be free of any scholastic conceptions.

First of all we must say again that the ancestral sin meant deprivation of the glory of God, alienation from God, the loss of communion with God. It also had physical consequences, however, because decay and death entered the bodies of Adam and Eve. In the Orthodox Church the inheritance of ancestral sin does not mean inheritance of the guilt of the ancestral sin, but rather of the consequences of sin, which are decay and death. Just as when the root of a plant becomes diseased, so do the branches and leaves, with Adam’s fall it was the same. The whole human race became ill. The decay and death which man inherits is the favourable climate for the nurture of passions. In this way man’s nous is darkened.

Therefore Christ’s assuming this mortal and passible body without sin, by His incarnation, helped to correct the consequences of Adam’s sin. Deification existed in the Old Testament as well, as did illumination of the nous, but death had not been abolished, and therefore the Prophets who saw God also went to Hades. Through Christ’s incarnation and Resurrection, human nature has been deified, and thus the possibility of being deified has been granted to every man. Since by holy Baptism we become members of the deified and risen body of Christ, we say that man is released from the ancestral sin by holy Baptism.

Applying these things to the case of the Panagia, we can understand her relationship to the ancestral sin and her liberation from it. The Panagia was born with the ancestral sin, she had all the consequences of decay and death in her body. When she entered the holy of holies she had attained deification. But this deification was not enough to rid her of those consequences which meant corruption and death, just because the divine nature had not been united with the human nature in the person of the Word. Thus it was at the moment when by the power of the Holy Spirit the divine nature was united with the human nature in the womb of the Panagia that the Panagia first tasted her release from the so-called ancestral sin and its consequences. Furthermore, at that moment there took place what Adam and Eve had failed to do in their free personal struggle. At the moment of the Annunciation the Panagia reached a higher state that that in which Adam and Eve were before the fall. She was granted to taste the final goal of creation, as we shall see in the other analyses.

Therefore for the Panagia no Pentecost, no Baptism was needed. What the Apostles experienced on the day of Pentecost, when they became members of the Body of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and what happens to all of us in the sacrament of Baptism, happened to the Panagia on the day of the Annunciation. It was then that she was released from the ancestral sin, not that she had any guilt, but she was deified in soul and body by reason of her union with Christ.

This is the background for interpreting the words of St. John of Damaskos that on the day of the Annunciation the Panagia received the Holy Spirit, which purified her and gave her the power at the same time both to receive the divinity of the Word and to give birth. That is to say, the Panagia received from the Holy Spirit both purifying grace and the power to receive and give birth to the Word of God as man.”

The Virgin Mary’s liberation from humanity’s mortal state at the time of the Annunciation is supported by the events of her Dormition;  as she “fell asleep”, her body miraculously disappeared rather than decaying and being entombed as our mortal bodies do.

That a young woman from an obscure province on the outskirts of the Roman Empire should be the vessel for God’s Incarnation on Earth (or in the Georgian poetic usage, “the vineyard, newly blossomed, young, beautiful, growing in Eden”) is remarkable. God of course, if he wished, had the power to create an all-powerful immortal Avatar of Himself on Earth, just as he created the angels, but to fulfill the prophecies instead He chose to be incarnated as a human being through a childbirth both mundane and miraculous; to be born of a virgin in a cattle shed, visited by unwashed shepherds and wealthy Magi, whisked away on the back of a donkey to Egypt to escape the massacres of Herod the Great, and raised with step-brothers in the humble home of a carpenter and his wife.

Jewish society at this time was tremendously patriarchal in nature; women could not own property, were often abandoned by their husbands without support, and if caught in adultery were stoned to death, often while their male lover escaped sanction. Rabbinical essays concerning the nature of women in light of the story of Adam and Eve often painted women as being deceitful, easily swayed by flattery, disobedient and wicked by nature; justifying their harsh and unfair treatment according to Jewish Law. The Hellenic-inspired Graeco-Roman civilisations of the Mediterranean at the time were no more liberal; women were routinely enslaved and sexually abused on a whim, murdered in family feuds or killed for sport in the Circuses. The more egalitarian Egyptian civilisation that saw many Empresses and significant female leaders was later displaced by patriarchal Hellenic civilisation under the Ptolemies.The entire region was a dark and unjust place for a woman.

That God would choose to reveal Himself to a woman before all others at the Annunciation, beget His Son within a woman’s body by the Holy Spirit, purge the debased legacy of death and corruption emanating from the Fall of man from a woman before any other human being, and have His Son’s character shaped by a woman, His mother, sends a clear and revolutionary message to the world, that the degraded status of women is dead and buried, and a new order in human affairs exists. Women henceforth were considered by the Church not only fit to be instructed as disciples (from the Latin for student) in contravention of the Jewish and Hellenic norms of the day, but also to take on the burden of leadership within religious communities and to be Apostles for the message of Christ to the world.

The Church hence teaches that men and women are of equal worth and merit, created in the Image and Likeness of their Maker, and possessed of individual spiritual and physical gifts of great worth. This contrasts greatly with the other two Abrahamic religions. The Church does not however make explicit that those gifts are identically allocated to both genders; a man cannot conceive and give birth for example. A Spiritual Father in a parish does not deal with parishioners in batches according to gender, race or family background; they are all individuals that must be ministered to in a manner befitting their individual needs.

Georgian Orthodox Christians today pay great respect to the Virgin Mary; every temple, home, office and car will contain an icon of her. Within the Divine Liturgy, marriage service, baptism and funeral services are repeated references to the Virgin Mary, usually praising her name by referring to “our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Ghvtismshobeli and ever virgin Mary”, at which point the congregation will cross themselves and face her icon. According to Church Tradition, Georgia was allocated to the Virgin Mary by casting lots, for her to travel here and evangelise the people (at the last minute, the Apostle Andrew the First-Called was allocated this task) and she is still considered the national Patron and Protector. Such reverence is she held in that her parents, Joachim and Anna, are frequently represented in icons and venerated.

Icon of Joachim and Anna, Svetiskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta

Pre-Christian Georgian civilisation was known to be patriarchal, and social attitudes towards the status of women in Georgia are still more old-fashioned than many post-Soviet countries (even amongst pagans, atheists and Communists in Georgia). It is especially poignant that a country with deeply entrenched views on the status of women has been gifted with such an important patron as the Ghvtismshobeli and such a rich history of female saints and matryrs; a greater proportion of such heroines than most other countries of the Slavic lands, Middle East and Mediterreanean. One way to look at things would be that, because Georgia was in such need of female saints to inspire the country’s women and infuse the country’s men with respect and reverence, that God provided an abundance of them.

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